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Abraham Inc and Faren Kahn - the revival of Klezmer

by Alison Hird

Article published on the 2009-12-11 Latest update 2009-12-13 12:18 TU

Abraham Inc(Photo: Jon Wasserman)

Abraham Inc
(Photo: Jon Wasserman)

No Jewish wedding would be complete without Klezmer. It is also one of the most nomadic forms of world music. While its roots can be found in the folk music of eastern Europe (Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine…) it can be traced back as far as the 15th century when Jews were forced out of Spain and music became an important way of expressing Jewish identity on the move.

World tracks: the revival of Klezmer

11/12/2009 by Alison Hird

The Russian pogroms forced it on another major voyage, while Hitler’s march on Europe nearly extinguished it once and for all. Thanks to a number of largely American musicians interested in exploring Jewish identity, Klezmer has undergone something of a revival since the 70’s.

David Krakauer is a key figure in the movement and the New York virtuoso classical clarinettist has made it his mission to reinvent Klezmer, keeping it alive and “out of the museum” as he likes to say. It began with his work with the avant-garde Klezmatics band in the 80’s and then with his own band Klezmer Madness! in the mid 90’s.

As the name suggests the latter are not what you’d call purists - screeching rock guitar riffs, near manic accordion and keyboards, Krakauer’s own highly expressive free-jazz inspired clarinet, and even rap have all been added to the Klezmer pot with consummate skill.

Krakauer’s latest adventure takes Klezmer down funk avenue with a new formation called Abraham Inc. Along with the Klezmer Madness ensemble, including Canadian DJ and hip-hop artist Socalled, the legendary funk trombonist Fred Wesley (known for his work with James Brown, Bootsy Collins and Parliament-Funkadelic) has joined the party.

Their debut album Tweet Tweet is a groovy mix of funk and rap on largely traditional Klezmer tunes such as Baleboste and The H Tune (Hava Nagila) – such a staple at weddings, says Krakauer that “musicians get a little bit sick of it”. Wesley’s trombone turns it into the kind of wedding you’d queue up for.

Faren Kahn, a young French/Spanish/American group, are certainly more traditional in their approach but are finding a voice. In their debut album Faren Kahn: le 30ème jour they delve into oriental Klezmer, mixing it with Turkish and Indian influences. As well as a few original compositions, they revisit traditional wedding songs like Fun Tashlikh and Fun der Khupe, and do an intriguing cover of Lou Reed’s Venus in Furs whose pulsating rhythms echo the table pounding so typical of Klezmer.

And so to Table Pounding Records, the label Krakauer has just founded so he can take Klezmer in whatever direction he wants. Because not all Klezmer fans necessarily appreciate the fusion with the Afro-American funk musicians or rappers that play on Tweet Tweet. Not least because while the songs are secular and celebratory, there is also a serious side involving supplication, the cantor from the synagogue. Klezmer expresses both the pain and joy of what is it to be Jewish. 

“The greatest synagogues are those where the doors are open” says Krakauer whose own musical doors certainly are. He’s proud to have both the Jewish rapper Socalled and Afro-American rapper C Rayz Walz on the album, and working so well together.

“What’s gong on rhythmically in rap is incredible”, he adds, describing the feeling he had hearing Tupac Shakur for the first time. “He sounds like Sidney Bechet [one of Krakauer’s jazz heros], “the way he phrases. People think I’m crazy but you can hear this lineage”.

And since Klezmer is dance music, there’s always been a logic in marrying it with hip-hop and funk. But while the music itself is evolving, the dances haven’t quite kept up. At Jewish weddings people go round in a circle doing the hora but it creates an artificial situation says Krakauer who hopes his brand of Klezmer will spawn new ways of dancing.

“It would be great if someone could pick up the gauntlet and start inventing new dances to our music - a Jewish African-American meeting point and find new ways to dance to that [… ] I’m waiting for that to happen!"

Tweet Tweet is available on Table Pounding records

Faren kahn: le 30ème jour is available on Al Sur records


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